Visiting the Washington Navy Yard and Museum

Take a deep dive into history of the U.S. Navy

National Museum of the United States Navy
Tim Evanson / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Washington Navy Yard, the former shipyard for the United States Navy, serves as the home to the Chief of Naval Operations and is also headquarters for the Naval Historical Center in Washington. Visitors can explore the National Museum of the U.S. Navy and the Navy Art Gallery to discover the Navy's history from the Revolutionary War to the present day. Although the Washington Navy Yard is off the beaten path from the rest of Washington's museums, it is one of the most interesting attractions for families.

Security is tight at this attraction, and there are restrictions on visitors. Visitors without military credentials will need to be vetted by the Visitor Center staff before entry Monday through Friday. Museum staff members are not permitted to escort visitors on weekends.

The Navy Museum at Washington Navy Yard offers interactive exhibits and displays naval artifacts, models, documents, and fine art. Exhibits include model ships, undersea vehicles, sub periscopes, a space capsule, and a decommissioned destroyer.

Special events scheduled throughout the year include workshops, demonstrations, storytelling, and musical performances. The Navy Art Gallery displays the creative works of military artists.

How to Visit

Visitors must enter the grounds at the 11th and O Street gate. The Washington Navy Yard is located along the Anacostia River near Nationals Park, Washington's baseball stadium. The neighborhood is in the midst of revitalization. The closest Metro station is Navy Yard. Parking is very limited on the Washington Navy Yard. Vehicle registration and proof of insurance or rental agreement are required to drive onto the base. Paid parking is also available in the lot adjacent to the Navy Yard at the intersection of Sixth and M Street SE.

The museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends and federal holidays.

Admission is free. Guided and self-guided tours are available upon request. Visitors must have either a Department of Defense Common Access Card; an Active Military, Retired Military, or Military Dependent ID; or an escort with one of these credentials. All visitors 18 and older must have a photo ID. 

Navy Museum Galleries

The galleries in the museum will pique the interest of historians, ship buffs, and those who love the U.S. Navy.

  • The Forgotten Wars of the 19th Century: The exhibits examine the Quasi-War with France and the Barbary Wars, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War.
  • Dive! Dive! U.S. Navy Submarines: This exhibit features interactive displays tracing the 200-year history of submarines in U.S. defense.
  • The American Revolution and the French Alliance: Artifacts include swords and firearms of the Revolutionary period, portraits of John Paul Jones, and personal effects of the Continental Marines.
  • Navigation: Here you'll see navigation devices such as quadrants, sextants, compasses, and charts.
  • Civil War: Securing the Seas for Union Victory: This exhibit details how the Union naval blockade, innovative technologies, and strong leadership propelled the Union to victory during the Civil War.
  • Spanish American War: This exhibit includes interesting artifacts examining the U.S. involvement in Spanish colonial conflict in Cuba, the Caribbean, and the Phillippines.
  • Polar Exploration: Artifacts showcase the Navy's exploration of the Arctic and Antarctic throughout history.
  • The U.S. Navy and World War I: The exhibit shows how the Navy contributed to the war through a variety of interesting artifacts.
  • The U.S. Navy and World War II: The museum boasts the largest and most comprehensive exhibit detailing the Navy's role in World War II. Divided into the Atlantic and Pacific theaters and the home front, the exhibit examines the conflict in chronological order.